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Awe and Resolve

Awe and Resolve

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Like everyone else, I was simply awestruck by the destruction and chaos caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami waves in Asia. The loss of life is simply staggering, with the number rising steadily from hour to hour. Neither is this a local tragedy, since many of the victims were tourists from around the globe. This is a catastrophe of immense proportions that has cast its pall over the entire planet.

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There is much that can be said about the display of Divine might, manifest in the forces of nature, which has been witnessed. We were brutally reminded that this world is still guided by powerful, unseen forces. These forces, engineered and driven directly by G‑d, are a humbling reminder of our own human vulnerability, and of the need to connect with the Master of this universe.

What about the immense loss of life? Why?

I don’t profess to have the answer to this dilemma. As a believer, I know as certain fact that G‑d is benevolent, compassionate and good. To try and understand His mysterious ways is an impossibility. Instead, I would like to concentrate on the possible lessons to be gained from the tsunami waves.

Intriguingly, one of the greatest needs of the survivors is... water. Here we have hundreds of thousands of people who have escaped the wrath of water, and all they yearn for is water!

Water is a fascinating substance, with different aspects and qualities to it. We all recognize its life-giving character, since nothing can survive without it. The Torah considers water to be a blessing, though it also describes its destructive capacity. This past week’s Torah reading clearly demonstrates its diverse qualities. Pharaoh decrees that water would be the method by which all male newborn children would be put to death. But then the same water is utilized to save Moses, whose rescue from a premature end saves not just him, but ultimately the entire Israelite nation! Water is later used as a means to prove the greatness of G‑d, when it is changed into blood.

Essentially, water is like any object or being in the world –- it has duality. Most of the time it adds life, strength, therapy and hygiene. It even has the spiritual the power to purify the one who was ritually impure. Occasionally, however, it is used in a different, more menacing way. It does so at the command of a Supreme Commander -- G‑d.

If we adapt this idea into our own lives, then it’s easy to see how we as individuals possess these same qualities, albeit in different dimensions. We can choose to be productive or destructive; kind or cruel; life givers or life takers. The choice is ours. We can wreak destruction upon G‑d's world. And we can, as individuals or as societies, put our energies together to solve the world’s ills, and truly become G‑d's partners in creation.

There is a further lesson, too. Water, taken one drop at a time, is utterly tranquil and benign; but when theses droplets come together as waves they become a force to be reckoned with. The combined efforts of the water rise in unison to create an unstoppable momentum.

When we work together in unity, an unstoppable force is formed. Some choose to do so in destructive acts of terrorism that cause heartache and pain to many. On the other hand, one need only just look at the outpouring of assistance and kindness to the victims of the recent disaster to clearly see the beautiful qualities inherent in us when we really make the effort.

Jewish tradition maintains that good is infinitely more powerful than evil. And the great Jewish scholar, Maimonides -- whose 800th yahrzeit (anniversary of his passing) is this past Shabbat -- reminds us how each individual action adds up to the grand total, which has the power to bring relief and salvation to the entire universe, or the opposite.

As we mourn the immense loss of life, and as we pray for the many who are injured and bereaved, let us also make a resolution for good, so that the event does not merely remain a news item of historical record, but as a change for good.

As we stand in awe by the Divine might implicit within the forces of nature, let us resolve to unite together as a power that will work to cure the poverty, evil and hurt that exists, and bring some sanity and calm to the world. G‑d’s Creation will then truly be complete.

Rabbi Mendel Lew is spiritual leader of Southend & Westcliff Hebrew Congregation in Westcliff-on-Sea, England.
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